Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Man sentenced to 35 years for killing 16-year-old Blake football player

TAMPA — Fearing she would lose her composure, Belinda Brown wrote down everything she wanted to say at Friday's sentencing of the man who murdered her teenage son.

She titled her statement: Justice for my son Torrie Leon McDuffie.

But in this case, justice is elusive. As the mother watched 21-year-old Dexter Bell get sentenced to 35 years in prison, she knew others were still free. At least four guns were fired.

On a Thursday night three years ago, more than a dozen people were standing on a corner in a neighborhood near Clair Mel when two cars drove by, guns ablaze.

Their targets were a group of people who had thrown cinder blocks at one of their cars. McDuffie wasn't the instigator. He was 16, an honor student at Blake High School, a football player excited to buy his first car with money he'd saved from his first job.

He had just walked to the corner when a bullet struck his head. He didn't survive.

Deputies found Bell when he showed up at Tampa General Hospital shot in the hand. Prosecutors say the bullet came from a gun fired across him from the driver's seat. The identities of the others were no mystery, but investigators didn't have enough evidence to charge them. Eyewitnesses ducked as the men shot. Only Bell left physical evidence.

During the trial, a prosecutor couldn't prove Bell fired the killing shot, but showed that he participated in the deadly caravan. He pointed a gun out the window. And he shot. A jury decided he was guilty of second-degree murder and attempted murder.

The defense asked for the minimum sentence, 20 years. The prosecution asked for life, which Judge William Fuente declined based on the degree of the crime.

Six deputies stood guard in a room full of McDuffie's friends and relatives as Fuente announced the 35-year sentence followed by 15 years of probation. There were no outbursts.

McDuffie's mother just listened and cried. Belinda Brown had wanted life, but had agreed to give Bell a plea deal of 20 years, which he turned down. She wanted this to be over.

Torrie was her only son, her youngest child. He could have been in college now.

Brown never read her statement at the sentencing, because she feared becoming upset. A prosecutor read it as the mother buried her head in her hands and cried.

Every day, Brown wrote, the same thought comes into her mind. It's the last thing she thinks of when she falls asleep and the first when she wakes up, the image of her dying son on the ground.

These are her son's final moments, in her own words:

He was very calm, but he kept trying to get out his last words to me …

I'm steady crying, but I didn't want my baby to get upset …

"Don't talk, baby. It's going to be okay. They're on their way."

But he kept responding … "Ma."

"Ma, I love you."

Those were his last words to me. And I said, "I love you."

And he closed his eyes forever.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

Man sentenced to 35 years for killing 16-year-old Blake football player 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 11:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  2. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  3. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'


    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  4. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light


    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  5. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling


    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]